There’s a piece on Pickled Politics about the blogger Guido Fawkes – aka Paul Staines – who has been “outed” as a man who, when a student at a F.E. college, proposed a link up between the Federation of Conservative Students and the British National Party. Tim Ireland, a Paul Staines adversary of long standing, has also published the story.
This is, in a sense, old news. The outing consists of the reprinting of a Guardian article from 1986.
Paul Staines has responded to the Pickled Politics story by claiming that the Guardian article was “retracted over 400 words” (I’m not sure what that means). He adds, ominously:
You are on notice. Please remove immediately
Paul Staines appears to be saying that the story was untrue, defamatory, and ultimately removed by the Guardian. It is unclear how the story was put into the public domain again, after 20 years.
I can’t really tell you any more about what Paul Staines did or didn’t do when he was an undergraduate. Let’s work on the assumption that the Guardian story was untrue, and was indeed retracted.
What I can tell you is that the Federation of Conservative Students was an extremely odd organisation, which was basically run – it is final years at least – by a coalition between the right wing “Monday Club” faction and Tory libertarians. That coalition successfully kept the “one nation” Tory Reform Group faction out of power. My impression was that the Tory Libertarians were basically pulling the wool over they eyes of the Monday Clubbers who were too thick to realise that the libbies were using them to gain power in Tory studentdom, so they could push their minimal statist agenda. The politics of the Libertarian faction was the polar opposite of that of the Monday Clubbers. What the Monday Clubbers got in return was a bit of nasty right wing rhetoric of the “Hang Nelson Mandela” variety: which was essentially a sop to their bigotry. The Tory Reform Group faction fought back by running a libertarian-ish campaign for “Free Speech on Campus”, which resulted in the enactment of the “free speech” provisions of the Education (No. 2) Act 1988. Eventually, Norman Tebbit – annoyed by the FCS’ antics – shut the whole organisation down, and replaced it with the Conservative Collegiate Forum. Happy days!
What Paul Staines may or may not have been up to in the mid 1980s, I can’t tell. He may have had fascist sympathies in those days, or may have proposed some kind of working arrangement with the BNP. That would not be out of line with the sort of politics the FCS was following in the late 1980s: where it made sense to ally with the Monday Club. Or it might be a complete pack of lies, planted in the Guardian by Staines’ adversaries in the “one nation” wing of the FCS. After all, what would be the point of a BNP-Libby alliance, given that the BNP weren’t a wing of the FCS, and would offer nothing but opprobrium for the Libbies, were such an alliance ever to be made public.
What is certain is that, by the late 1980s, Paul Staines was very firmly in the Libertarian, rather than the Fascist camp. He was involved in promoting acid house parties. He ran the Freedom to Party campaign, which fought against the criminalisation of pay parties by the Tories. In 1991 he wrote an excellent pamphlet for the Libertarian Alliance, making an extremely strong and un-BNP-ish ideological case for freedom from what he called the “Lifestyle Police”. The pamphlet ended, memorably, with the following call to arms:
Yet uptight Conservatives are probably the people who would benefit most from taking drugs, particularly Thatcherites, with their machine-like obsession with efficiency and abstract attachment to the freedom to make money. I’m as much of a believer in Capitalism as the most earnest of Young Conservatives, but couldn’t we put acid in the punch at the YC ball and then really have a party?
Even if Paul Staines did propose a BNP linkup in 1986, within a few years, he had certainly undergone an epiphany. An Ecstasy epiphany.
I tend to work on the assumption that once a person has been involved in far right politics, they’re never to be forgiven. But I don’t know why I feel like that. After all Ayan Hirsi Ali was a former supporter of the clerical fascist Muslim Brotherhood. And some of my dearest comrades were formerly involved in Stalinist politics. Why should I make a distinction between them and those who flirted with the far right, before redeeming themselves?
Sunny concludes with the following question:
So I’d like to ask him: would he be willing to forge an alliance with the BNP now? Has he changed his views since? Since he is quite the figure to demand openness from others, it would be nice for him to show the same qualities.
From what I know of Paul Staines, the answer to that question is that he is not a BNP sympathiser, and would not propose an alliance with the BNP today. Who knows if he ever did.
I doubt that this story has legs.
Tim Worstall makes a similar point.
An old ex-Tory writes…
This from Dave W, an old FCS activist and friend:
I find it very hard to believe that he did indeed propose such a linkup. He was a hardline libertarian and I rememeber him as being scathing about the Monday Club, let alone the BNP. It’s conceiveable that he might have suggested such a thing rhetorically, in effect saying that the MC were little different from the BNP (see below for why he might have done this).
“What Paul Staines may or may not have been up to in the mid 1980s, I can’t tell”
I can personally testify that Paul’s politics in 1986 were exactly those expressed in that 1991 pamphlet. He detested the racists and fascists of the BNP (and the MC) the whole time I knew him (1985-198?).
“What I can tell you is that the Federation of Conservative Students was an extremely odd organisation, which was basically run – it is final years at least – by a coalition between the right wing “Monday Club” faction and Tory libertarians”
This is partially true; the libs allied with the MC (“Nazis” as they were known in lib circles) as a marriage of convenience. The libs ditched the MCers as soon as they could, and outmanouvered them, effectively taking control of the FCS at a semi-annual conference in Leicester in 1986 (I think it was Easter ’86 – my memory is getting fuzzy). Such was the lib strength that they didn’t need even those (like Bercow) who were part of the Thatcherite coalition but neither MC or hardline lib. The libs chose to demonstrate their victory by passing a motion in favor fo free migration. I can’t be sure, but I’m fairly certain (it’s 20 years on so I can’t remember for sure – but I was there, in the middle of it all) that Paul Staines was on of those promoting that motion – hard to reconcile with BNP sympathies.
It was the free migration motion which led directly to the closing down of the FCS by Tebbit. I found it very telling at the time (and still today) that Tebbitt and the Tory hierachy could tolerate the open racism of the Monday Club, but responded to open libertaianism with fury and closed down FCS within days. This led to my own decision to leave the Tory party.
I should say in passing that Bercow was not, in my experience from those days, a racist or an MCer; he was a decent man and an exceptional orator.
And there was a Radio 4 “Profile” programme on Guido today